Friday, July 17, 2009

Ongoing notes: some journals

Saskatoon SK: It’s been a while since I’ve gone through an issue of Grain magazine, but the new issue (volume 36, no. 3/spring 2009), subtitled “melt,” heralds the first under new management, with editor Sylvia Legris, along with poetry editor Mari-Lou Rowley and fiction editor Terry Jordan. Speaking of such, when do we get to see another book of fiction from Jordan, pray tell? I’m intrigued at how this issue is structured, under three subheadings—doused against gravity, dissent balloons and stories from the ground. Where is it Grain is taking us? As Legris writes in her “Editor’s Note”: “With future issues, instead of a Poetry Editor we are going to move to having one revolving/evolving editorial position or consultant, a change that will make Grain a more dynamic publication, that will allow us to be more adventurous, to infuse the magazine with electric sensibilities.” Over the past few years, what few issues have come my way have certainly been more than worth it, and the editorial by incoming editor Legris promises that there is certainly more to come. Does anyone remember when the journal used to include non-fiction pieces, including short histories of various prairie publishers?

I’ve started looking forward to new poetry by east coast poet Tonja Gunvaldsen Klassen, after discovering her third collection, Lean-to [see my review of such here], so able to read seven new pages, her poem “Sidhe of the city,” is a delight. If only the spacing didn’t make it so difficult to replicate online. Another highlight came from Jim Johnstone, author of the recent The Velocity of Escape (Guernica Editions, 2008), through his “Abattoir Ghazals”:

Matted fur and spoiled blueberries—a black
bear circles our camp, hounds the dusk.

Gripped fist, his nose can tell where our hands
have been. The lake ruined, clear.

Knives out, your lungs are dissident balloons,
winter gloves inflated with fingers.

Drunk again. The blush of warm lips behind
the subway’s false front, weak knees.

Underground, rain diffuses on rail, burrows
into sheets of limestone and clay.

Your stop is a synapse, the gradient between
olive and azure. A bare nerve.

Good to see some more worthy ghazals out in the world; there’s been a plethora of them lately, and they haven’t always been worthwhile, with some notable exceptions being Rob Winger, for example, and even Mari-Lou Rowley.

Las Vegas NV: I try to keep away from talking about journals that I’m actually included in, but I can’t help but mention this new double issue of Interim (Volume 27, No. 1 +2), with a rather large and impressive Canadian poets feature edited by Vancouver poet Jen Currin, including one of the last interviews with Vancouver poet Robin Blaser before he died (the issue was going to press as news of his death emerged). I’m hoping that, after some time, there might even be some other interviews perhaps emerge, or this one be made more available to those of us up north?

Defend the Zero

I don’t know
if they’re worth the money
quieter than forever

that’s the “new” style
we have doctors
in tears, right

but you’re the client
as far as you’re concerned
you’re a best buy

a handy brand
promptly, promontorily
burning up, toast. (Fred Wah)

Before Currin sent out her original call, I hadn’t actually heard of this journal before, and now, after seeing the broad range of authors and work included inside, I’m wondering just what rock I might have been hiding under, with familiar names including translations of the work of Erik Lindner (who read at the ottawa international writers festival a number of years ago) and Hoa Nguyen, as well as a whole slew of unfamiliar names, attached to some interesting bits of poetry and fiction.


is it red one it is
desert paintbrush it is skyrocked
is it a pink a purple
shooting star is it a wild rose
primrose a morning glory
is it growing on top of a cactus
so prickly pear is it cold
out still glacier lily
can you blow the petals poppy, orange
desert dandelion blown while
it is a weed nonnative pull it
it is this or it is that one
I saw a purple bell upside down
and the width of two fingers
I’ve never seen anything
like that way out here (Kathryn Cowles)

What I like about Currin’s selection is the range of authors, and the fact that she’s not working through “best” or “emerging” or anything like that, but a grouping of authors from, in or previously lived in this northern clime, some thirty-four poets an average American poetry audience might be completely unaware of, including Christian Bök, Jason Christie, Erin Moure, Christine Leclerc, Nicole Brossard, Stuart Ross, Rita Wong, Richard Van Camp, Sina Queyras, Ken Babstock, Kim Minkus, Jeff Derksen, Lisa Robertson, Eve Joseph and Alexandra Wilder. As Currin writes in her intro to the section:
Saying yes brought me to this next issue: What is a “Canadian”? I mean, was I supposed to ask each contributor to send a copy of their passport along with their poems? What about poets who live in Canada, but are citizens of other countries? What about Canadians who live in Brooklyn, Paris, Arizona? And, as Rita Wong notes in “alpha bets,” aren’t most of us living on land “stolen through lies, deceit, conceit” anyway? I finally decided that, for the purposes of this section, “Canadian” meant Canadian citizens as well as people who have lived here for several years and plan to stay.
It seems pretty reasonable to me.


I wear a gas mask
and crouch in my basement.
A lady makes sponge cake
up in the kitchen.
The lights all go out,
because of the lightning.
The plastic castle
has plastic guards
and a plastic moat.
I can’t remember if
I’m a man with a wife
and three kids or
if I’m a kid. Lately,
I think of bombs.
I run towards me
in slow motion.
Someone asks
if I’m a commercial. (Stuart Ross)

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